Sunday, 18 July 2010

Roman Polanski and overturned prejudice

It can be a terribly painful process to have your prejudices overthrown. You know, for years you believe that the US Republican Party is incapable of putting anyone into the White House who isn’t either a crook or a fool, and then suddenly you find a Republican President who’s decent, tolerant, honest and reasonable. You’d have to go through a fundamental realignment in your views and a probably quite painful reassessment of all your most deeply held opinions – or rather prejudices, as you would have to redefine them.

I’m not saying that anything like that is going to happen any time soon, of course - the Republicans don’t seem to have finished plumbing the depths of inadequacy that they seem to have made peculiarly their own. I’m just trying to illustrate the depth of readjustment that I’d have to go through if they ever did find a wholly human candidate with more than half a brain.

Just recently, I’ve had to review some pretty fundamental prejudices in a different area. Specifilly, I’ve had to reconsider my views of Roman Polanski. For a long time I thought that he was simply experiencing the legal troubles of a convicted paedophile trying to escape the consequences of his acts, and there was no reason to expect him to be treated more leniently just because he’d made some indifferent films.

Now I discover that his judicial issues aren’t quite as clear-cut as they seemed. I hadn’t realised that he’d had a deal with the prosecutors in his case, and only fled the States when it became clear that the judge was unlikely to abide by its terms. In other words, he went on the run when he realised that the judge was about to impose a far harsher sentence than had been agreed.

More fundamental still, I’ve had to revise my view of his films. They weren’t all Oliver Twist. First of all, I saw The Ghost some months ago and had to admit it was a good piece of work, close to the book, well acted, well adapted and well directed. I had to start rethinking my assessment.

Now I’ve finally got around to seeing The Pianist. It always takes me a long time to see films about the Holocaust: I just find them hard to take any more. A little girl in a red coat trailing along behind long lines of people heading for the gas chambers: I can’t bear that kind of image any more.

So it took me the best part of five years to see the film. And it has completed the overthrow of all my earlier prejudices. There are many brilliant details, not least the point at which a guard allowing the protagonist to flee shouts ‘don’t run’. In the book the instruction, on the contrary, is ‘run’. Polanski changed it because he had the experience himself and had been told not to run, not to attract attention – and it’s much more forceful to have that sharp reminder that survival can sometimes mean behaving counter-intuitively.

But much more powerful still than the detail is the overall structure. You have to wade through all the pain of the Holocaust material, the usual casual murders, the cruel humiliations, the transports leaving for the death camps. But it’s all made worthwhile by the climax, a moment of calm poignancy, of beauty and pathos, that not only justifies the pain of the build up to it, but actually needs it to generate its full force.

So now I have to say – congratulations, Roman, on your escape. And thanks for a great film.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

You should also try out The Tenant (really, "le Locataire" - I think it's in French) and Chinatown, especially interesting if only for how different they are (and he only made them two years apart)